Teens with ADHD

“I Can Do It On My Own, Mom”

It’s natural for a teenager to want to take charge of his life. But what’s a parent to do when he turns down help with managing attention deficit?

Teenage boy with ADHD walking in woods
Teenage boy with ADHD walking in woods

“I’m tired of this whole ADHD thing. I just want to be myself. I’m gonna go it on my own from now on.”

“But Justin,” his mom responded, “you’re in 11th grade. This is the year that’s crucial for college. You know that. Don’t you want to make sure that you do your absolute best?”

“Yeah, Mom, I do, and that’s exactly my point. I want to do my best. Not some tutor’s best or some medication’s best. I want to do my best. I don’t want to rely on tutors and meds and doctors and all that stuff anymore. I want to rely on me. Isn’t that what you and Dad have always told me? Take responsibility for myself? Well, now I want to take full responsibility. I plan to. And I will.”

“But you have ADHD. Is it smart to pretend you don’t have it and reject what’s helped you in the past? Wouldn’t it be smarter to make use of the tools that help you make the most of the great mind that you have?”

“Give me a chance to do it on my own. I’ll show you what I can do. Just watch me.”

Is Your Teen Sabotaging Himself?

Many parents have had this discussion with their adolescent boy or girl who has ADHD. More likely a boy, as the code of honor Justin adheres to is classically male. At its best, this code is the backbone of a heroic and honest life. But at its worst, it is a recipe for avoidable self-sabotage. It is ironic that strength of character can become a tool of self-deception.

Double-think is at work here. On the one hand, the young man may say, “I don’t want to take medication any more. It messes up my mind. I want to be me!” At the same time, he says, “What’s wrong with having a few beers? You and Dad certainly have your martinis and wine. What is the big deal if my friends and I do the exact same?”

Young adults typically regard the diagnosis of ADHD and its treatment with mixed feelings. Often the negative feelings win out, and they use their considerable forces of argument and determination to reject help. When it is pointed out that they are cutting off their nose to spite their face, they craft more complex and clever arguments to reject all of the help that’s offered.

I’ve learned not to argue or cajole. It is best to give the student full control over how he manages, or does not manage, his ADHD. Let him know that he can reject his diagnosis, ridicule it, refuse medication, tutoring, coaching, and any other help, should he so choose.

Above all, do not get into a struggle with your child. Do the following experiment: Say, “We can try it your way until/if it fails, then we’ll try another way.” Usually, over time, reason will prevail.